The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
With Sunday night’s performance at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar, J String completed the journey from hot summer night lark to a winter night performance that attracted a good, enthusiastic crowd, despite a cold rain.
The conceit of the duo of Lexington cellist Jacob Yates, now a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Cincinnati-based Broadway actress Jessica Hendy, is that they take big pop songs by artists like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and reset them for voice and cello. It has worked well for J String over a quintet of web videos that have been modest viral successes, particularly the sleek production of David Guetta’s Titanium.
J String has a lot going for it, primarily a pair of extremely talented musicians and a unique concept: voice and cello pop duo. Add to that, they have tossed artsy snobbery to the wind and taken songs often dismissed as Top 40 confections seriously.
That may have worked best in their take on Britney Spears’ debut hit … Baby One More Time, in which Hendy really accessed the emotion of a girl pleading to get a guy to give her another chance. The duo’s take also accented one of the controversial aspects of the song, the lyric “Hit me baby one more time,” which Spears has maintained is not a reference to violence. But Hendy’s performance did convey a note of unhealthy desperation.
Throughout the 16-song set, she and Yates, to an extent, embodied their songs like a Broadway performer embodies a character. On three songs, they were joined by Cincinnati Conservatory senior Josh Tolle, from a piano-bar style rendition of Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You to a pointed interpretation of Radiohead’s Creep.
Yates was clearly on a cellist’s holiday ripping intricate solos in songs like Titanium and using a looping pedal for some very cool overlays.
There is no clear path for what is next for J String. They are hoping to book a New York gig later this year that could get them in front of some influential ears. Hendy and Yates have no designs on creating original material, though Tolle is a songwriter and clearly finds the combo inspiring. Maybe they will know they have arrived if someone takes a J String original and sets it to guitar, bass, and drums.
For now, it’s fun watching the group put on the hits.
The sweltering days around the Fourth of July were perfect for city kids to pop open a fire hydrant to cool off, but not so great for expensive instruments in apartments that are not air-conditioned.
That’s what Lexington native Jacob Yates was fretting July 7 in his hot digs near the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he is a student. He was spending the summer playing cello and keyboard for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s production of Next to Normal. Cast member Jessica Hendy suggested Yates bring his cello to her air-conditioned home.
“We just hung out all day, and we just started making music,” says Hendy, whose Broadway credits include Cats, Aida and Amour. “It was one of those random things.”
They started working on a rendition of Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory with a healthy dose of J.S. Bach thrown in. Then they decided to make a video of it with Hendy’s iPhone and post it on her YouTube page.
That black-and-white clip (above), with Yates playing in a backward baseball cap and a giraffe in the background, became a minor success.
“We both really like social networking, and we started getting a significant number of views really fast,” Yates said.
Hendy elaborates, “We both posted it on our Facebook pages, and we had so many shares from friends and acquaintances who were posting it on their walls, we thought, ‘Oh, maybe we should do another one.’”
Their duo, J String, was born.
Sunday night, they bring their live show to Natasha’s Bistro and Bar in Lexington with more than a dozen pop songs set for voice and cello including the summer of 2012’s No. 1 earworm, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe.
Soon after Vanessa Becker’s son Jackson was born, she was holding him and her 4-year-old daughter, Emma, came in the room, saw the baby and started singing, “You are my sunshine.”
On Sunday, Becker and her kids, now 15 and 11, will reprise their family tune at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar in To Mother With Love, a Mother’s Day cabaret performance featuring numerous Lexington-area singers and actors.
“I’m excited this is the way I’m spending Mother’s Day with my children,” says Becker, director of education for Kentucky Conservatory Theatre.
She’s spending it that way thanks to Mary Joy Nelson, program director at the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre’s Academy for Creative Excellence.
“A lot of different things came together,” Nelson explained Wednesday.
She was involved with a group called Search.Love.Rescue., a not-for-profit organization that supports an orphanage in Cali, Colombia.
“I did a trip to Colombia three summers ago and got to see the culture and how people lived and fell in love with the kids there,” Nelson says. “We’d always talked about doing some sort of musical event. Then, I was talking to people about what there is to do for Broadway in town and cabaret opportunities. So we said, what would be a good time to have a cabaret when people would enjoy coming out to hear some Broadway songs and see a show?
“There are so many talented musical theater performers in Lexington, and you might see them in Grand Night for Singing or a production, but I felt like you don’t hear that enough and you don’t hear these singers enough.”
People who come out to the two performances at 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday at Natasha’s will hear plenty of them in a program that will combine sentimental favorites like the Beckers’ You Are My Sunshine; familial tunes like a rendition of Sisters by Nelson and her real-life sibling Vanessa Davis; and some pop favorites and Broadway classics like Pamela Perlman singing Everything’s Coming Up Roses, one of Mama Rose’s classics from Gypsy.
When Chicago-based theater troupe the Neo-Futurists came to Lexington last month, former group member and now Lexington resident Robbie Morgan was pretty up front about ambitions to do more than just bring her old act to town.
She said a town with offerings as diverse as the March Madness Marching Band and Balagula Theatre may very well have the creative talent and audience to support a branch of the Neos, which since forming in the Windy City has established groups in cities such as Montreal and Memphis.
While Morgan isn’t ready to get into specifics of what’s next – she’s actually working on another big art project we’ll be writing about soon – she said the response from both the audience and participants in a pair of workshops with Neo-Futurists founder Greg Allen was more than enough to affirm there was a desire for more.
“What was great at the workshops was we saw people who people in the theater community had never seen before,” Morgan says. “It brought out a new group of people interested in theater.”
The Neo-Futurists emphasizes theater as a form of self expression, using the actors’ own life and experiences to make creative statements. The show the group presented in Lexington at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar was Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, a series of 30 two-minute plays performed at random per audience request.
Morgan says new projects and events geared toward establishing a Neo troupe in Lexington will probably come in the fall.
… or, at least, learn to act like one?
In addition to delivering two performances of it’s hit late-night show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, June 25 and 26 at Natasha’s, the Chicago-based theater troupe the Neo-Futurists will be giving workshops on its unique approach June 26 and 27.
The Neo-Futurists have given similar workshops around the nation and inspired Neo-Futurist ensembles to form in cities such as Memphis, New York and Montreal. Lexington-based artist Robbie Morgan, a former member of the Chicago troupe, would like to see a Neo-Futurist group form in Lexington. While attending a workshop is not required to be part of a future Futurist group, Morgan does hope the workshops will be a chance to gauge area interest in the project.
The workshops are $30, and if you would like to participate, there are still a few spots left June 27. Email Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have a forgotten trumpet sitting in the corner of your coat closet? A lonely guitar gathering dust in the corner of your basement.
The City wants it.
We are referring here to The City, the Lexington band that plays fund-raising events for not-for-profit organizations. This Saturday, they are playing from 8:30 to 11 p.m. at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar, and if you bring an instrument to donate to the Music Institute of Lexington, they will waive the $8 cover charge. The Music Institute is a not-for-profit that aims to provide music instruction for people of all ages, abilities and income levels.
I talk to musicians all the time, and I cannot tell you how many say they got into playing because someone gave them an instrument and they fell in love with it. So, think what your donation might do. Your flute may launch the next James Gallway or violin may create a new Joshua Bell. At the very least, you’ll give that forgotten instrument a loving new home.
Nov18Filed under: Balagula Theatre, Central Kentucky Arts News, Theater; Tagged as: Aidan's Gift, Artists Collaborative Theatre, Balagula Theatre, Bardstown High School, Bernice Sizemore's 70th Birthday, Cody Anderson, Elizabeth Orndorff, Gareth Evans, Gone Astray, Kentucky Theatre Association, Little Women, Lynn McReynolds Chenault, Morehead State University, Nancy Gall-Clayton, Natasha Williams, Natasha's Bistro and Bar, One Freaky Afternoon in the Office Lunchroom, Overtones, Owensboro High School, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Peggy Kenney, Roots of the Bluegrass New Play Competition, Ryan Case, Samuel Beckett, Shelby County Community Theatre, Southeastern Theatre Conference, Teresa Myers, Village Players, Walter May
It’s only November, but Balagula Theatre can already lay claim to an award-winning season. The company, based at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar, took its productions of Samuel Beckett’s Play and Not I to Morehead State University for the community theater festival at the Kentucky Theatre Association’s annual conference, and it came home with several of the top prizes.
Best performance: “Selected Plays of Samuel Beckett,” performed by the Balagula Theatre Company
Outstanding director: Ryan Case and Natasha Williams, “Selected Plays of Samuel Beckett,” Balagula Theatre
Outstanding actor: Ryan Case, “Selected Plays of Samuel Beckett,” Balagula Theatre
Excellence in lighting design: Gareth Evans, “Selected Plays of Samuel Beckett,” Balagula Theatre
Excellence in scenic design: Gareth Evans, “Selected Plays of Samuel Beckett,” Balagula Theatre
The remainder of the community theater festival award winners were:
1st Runner Up for best performance: “Overtones,” performed by Shelby County Community Theatre
Outstanding actress: Lynn McReynolds Chenault, “Overtones,” Shelby County Community Theatre
Outstanding supporting actor: Cody Anderson, “Little Women,” Artists Collaborative Theatre, Elkhorn City
Outstanding supporting actress: Teresa Myers, “One Freaky Afternoon in the Office Lunchroom,” Village Players, Fort Thomas
Outstanding ensemble: “Overtones,” Shelby County Community Theatre
Excellence in costume design: “Little Women,” Artists Collaborative Theatre
Outstanding technical crew: “Little Women,” Artists Collaborative Theatre
Excellence in stage management: Peggy Kenney, “One Freaky Afternoon in the Office Lunchroom,” Village Players
Spirit award: “Little Women,” performed by Artists Collaborative Theatre
The Lexington area was also distinguished in KTA’s inaugural Roots of the Bluegrass New Play Competition, where Danville’s Elizabeth Orndorff won the top prize for “Aidan’s Gift” and Lexington’s Walter May was second runner up with “Gone Astray.” First runner up was “Bernice Sizemore’s 70th Birthday” by Nancy Gall-Clayton of Louisville.
In the High School festival, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” was first runner up. The winner was Owensboro High School’s “Almost, Maine” and the second runner up was Bardstown High School’s “Zoo Story.”
For their wins, Balagula Theatre, Shelby County Community Theatre, Owensboro High School and Dunbar High will participate in the Southeastern Theatre Conference‘s play competitions when the annual regional theater event comes to Lexington March 3-7.
Warhorses need not apply on the Lexington Theatre scene this weekend. Bluegrass Community and Technical College and Balagula Theatre both offer up offbeat offerings this weekend, one homegrown and one from across the pond.
BCTC’s Theatre Program opens Jane Martin’s Middle Aged White Guys Thursday night, so we’ll start with them. The play, which premiered at the 1994 Humana Festival of New American Plays, centers on three brothers who gather every decade at a garbage dump to toast the memory of the woman one of them married and the other two had flings with. They eventually drove her to drive herself off a cliff, but with a little help from the Almighty, she’ll have her revenge. The play runs through Saturday at the Talon Winery and Vineyards.
Balagula Theatre opens French-Romanian author Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano Sunday at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar for a two-week run. The play presents two couples, the Smiths and the Martins having a visit that slips down a slope from normalcy to complete non-sequiturs. Directed by Natasha Williams, it is the second in Balagula’s season of existentialist, absurdiust plays. Natasha’s is arranging a special menu to compliment the play.
Sep10Filed under: Balagula Theatre, Podcasts, slide shows, Theater; Tagged as: Adam Luckey, B for Beckett, Balagula Theatre, Chris Rose, Endgame, Gene Arkle, Lauralyn Hungerford, Missy Johnston, Natasha Williams, Natasha's Bistro and Bar, Nick Swarts, Not I, Pete Sears, Play, Robbie Morgan, Ryan Case, Samuel McDonald
Press the play button to hear our podcast with Balagula Theatre co-director Ryan Case.
Balagula Theatre opens its first official season Sunday, Sept. 13 with ‘B’ for Beckett (A Night of Samuel Beckett’s Plays). It kicks off a lineup of absurdist, exesstentialist theater at Natasha’s Bistro and Bar, including works by Eugene Ionesco and Jean Paul Sartre.
“We always appreciate the opportunity to feature people in ways that we simply cannot do during our mainstage productions,” says Ryan Shirar, music director of Paragon.
Last year’s cabaret was sort of a soft debut for the theater’s new stage director, Robyn Peterman-Zahn, who made a big statement of a main stage debut in the spring with The King and I.
Advertisements for the event promise a cast of 40 — a number that could make the restaurant feel fairly full — singing show tunes. Several e-mails, Facebook messages, etc., have highlighted children in this show as particularly adorable.
Performances are at 8 p.m. tonight (Aug. 3), Tuesday and Aug. 17 and 18. This year, and the programs will be the same. Seating and dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. and showtime is at 8. There will be a $10 cover for the show added to dinner bills. Call (859) 259-2754 for reservations.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich